2 Men Sue, Alleging Abuse by Seminarian

By Tara Dooley
Houston Chronicle
June 4, 2004

Two Harris County residents filed a civil lawsuit claiming that a Catholic seminary student molested them in the mid-1990s when he was training at St. Francis De Sales Catholic Church to be a priest.

The two unidentified men, now 21 and 22, claim that Juan Carlos Patino-Arango molested them when they were eighth-graders at the parish school, according to the suit.

A Harris County grand jury on May 21 indicted Patino on a felony criminal charge of indecency with a child, one of the plaintiffs. A warrant has been issued for Patino's arrest, but he has not been taken into custody. In court papers, Patino is listed as a Tampa, Fla., resident.

The civil lawsuit, filed Wednesday against Patino, the Houston-Galveston Diocese and Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, claims that Patino functioned in the parish as a clergy member and was called "Father," the title given to priests. It alleges that diocese officials were negligent in supervising Patino and conspired to keep the abuse quiet once they learned of it.

But diocese spokeswoman Annette Gonzales Taylor said that when church officials first learned of one of the plaintiff's abuse allegations in May 1996, Child Protective Services and the Houston Police Department were notified.

At that time, Patino was a student at St. Mary's Seminary and was a month away from being ordained a deacon, a step on the path to becoming a priest. When the accusation was reported, Patino was removed from the parish, and the family was offered counseling, she said.

"We did comply with the law," Taylor said. " . . . We did indeed follow and cooperate fully with the investigation."

But attorney Tahira Khan Merritt of Dallas, who is working on the case with Daniel J. Shea of Houston, said the plaintiffs and their families were not contacted by police in 1996. She questioned the investigation.

"I don't think it happened," she said. "I really don't."


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